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By Fred Provenza

This excerpt is from Fred Provenza’s book Nourishment: What Animals Can Teach Us About Rediscovering Our Nutritional Wisdom (Chelsea Green Publishing, November 2018) and is reprinted with permission from the publisher.

Liking for foods is typically thought to be influenced by palatability. Webster’s dictionary defines palatable as pleasant or acceptable to the taste and hence fit to be eaten or drunk. Animal scientists usually explain palatability, though, as a liking influenced by a food’s flavor (odor and taste) and texture, or the relish an animal shows when eating a food. Plant scientists describe palatability as attributes of plants that alter an herbivore’s preference for consuming them, such as physical and chemical composition and associated plants.

Redefining Palatability

I had begun to ponder these questions about what influences an herbivore’s food choices while observing the perplexing behavior of the goats in St. George: Why didn’t the goats prefer the younger more nutritious twigs of blackbrush over older, woody, less nutritious blackbrush twigs? As it turned out, the goats helped me understand their anomalous behavior.

My colleague Beth and I began with a series of trials in which we extracted and purified secondary compounds from young twigs, mixed each purified extract individually with a pelleted food, and offered the “flavored” pellets to goats one laborious trial at a time. We did the trials during fall and winter, with no sign that any of the compounds deterred feeding by the goats. By midwinter, only one compound remained to be tested—a condensed tannin plentiful in the bark of new twigs. By process of elimination, we figured, this tannin must be the feeding deterrent.

On the first morning of the final trial, the goats ate all of the tannin-infused pellets. We were surprised and bewildered. We had tested every comp ound that might have made the goats averse to eating new blackbrush twigs, and the goats had eaten every one. How could they be so averse to eating new growth when none of the secondary compounds we’d extracted had any effect? Not only that, but at the rate the goats ate the tannin-containing pellets the first day, we had only enough tannin-containing pellets left to conduct one more trial. We’d spent months of hard work collecting twigs and then extracting and purifying that condensed tannin. We didn’t know what to do. As we pondered the situation that cold winter morning, we decided all we could do was feed the tannin-containing pellets again the next day.

Incredibly, when we offered the pellets the following day, the goats wouldn’t touch them. On this second exposure to pellets high in tannins, the goats had somehow changed their preference. It wasn’t a question of merely responding to flavor. If the goats had disliked the flavor of the tannin-infused pellets or innately recognized the pellets as something that would make them sick, they wouldn’t have eaten them so enthusiastically on the first day. At that aha moment, we realized goats didn’t innately know high-tannin pellets—or new blackbrush twigs—were bad for them. Rather, they had to learn from aversive postingestive consequences. In other words, it took a queasy stomach (nausea) to teach them not to eat foods with tannins.

To confirm that hypothesis, in a subsequent trial, we supplemented goats foraging on Cactus Flats with a small amount of polyethylene glycol, a compound that binds to tannins in the gut, alleviating their aversive postingestive effects. Goats supplemented with polyethylene glycol don’t experience the nauseating effects of tannins in blackbrush. With the deterrent effect neutralized, those goats were free to choose, and they preferred new to older growth twigs based on the higher energy, protein, and mineral content of the new twigs.

At that time, we were also studying how lithium chloride causes food aversions in sheep. Lithium chloride—once used as a substitute for table salt and to treat manic depression in humans—in excess conditions a food aversion in animals. Following the findings with blackbrush, we decided to repeat the trials with lithium chloride, but on goats as well as sheep. Sheep and goats who receive a capsule of lithium chloride acquire an aversion to any forage they ate just prior to receiving lithium chloride. Like humans, an upset stomach doesn’t necessarily cause an aversion in goats or sheep, but nausea does. At the dosages we were infusing, neither the sheep nor the goats showed any overt signs of illness. Yet, the following day they avoided the food they’d eaten just prior to receiving the lithium chloride.

Though conditioned taste aversion was of key importance in psychobiology, until the study with goats and blackbrush, neither we nor other scientists had a clue that secondary compounds in plants were communicating with cells and organ systems in herbivore bodies, providing feedback that changed liking for the flavor of a particular food. Rather, we had thought animals instinctively avoid foods that taste bad and choose to eat foods that taste good. During the next forty years, with this new understanding dawning, the research group I supervised carried out hundreds of studies that illustrated how likes and dislikes for the flavors of foods are caused by postingestive feedback emanating from cells, organ systems, and gut microbes.

In some studies, we worked with animals that had been made mildly deficient in primary compounds (energy, proteins, minerals, and vitamins). In our first studies, for example, we fed straw (a food with little nutritional value) to lambs deficient in energy. Some of the straw was flavored with apple; some with maple. On day one, lambs in one group were given apple-flavored straw, while lambs in the other group were given maple-flavored straw. After they ate the straw, we gave all the lambs an oral drench of water directly into the gut. On day two, lambs in the group previously fed apple-flavored straw were fed maple-flavored straw, while lambs fed maple-flavored straw were fed apple-flavored straw. After the meal of straw on day two, we gave all the lambs an oral drench of energy. After several days of that protocol, the lambs were given a choice between apple- or maple-flavored straw. They strongly preferred the flavored straw that had been paired with the boost of energy delivered directly into the gut. Thus, one group preferred apple-flavored straw while the other group preferred maple-flavored straw.

We showed that feedback strongly influences preferences for flavors paired with both primary compounds and secondary compounds (phenolics, terpenes, and alkaloids). We also found primary and secondary compounds interact with one another and with cells and organs to influence the choices animals make while foraging. The balance of primary and secondary compounds relative to needs strongly influences liking for flavors.

Secondary compounds set a limit on how much of any one food an animal can eat. Thus, animals must eat a variety of plants that contain different secondary compounds, detoxified by different means in the gut and liver, in order to meet needs for energy and protein. Cattle who forage on high mountain pastures select from a smorgasbord of plants, including larkspur, which contains toxic alkaloids. How much larkspur a cow will eat during a meal varies from day to day. Cattle recognize when they reach a toxic threshold and they stop eating larkspur for the next few days. That allows time to detoxify and eliminate those toxic alkaloids from their bodies.

Infusion studies with terpenes from sagebrush also show the sensitivity of herbivores to feedback. Terpenes give sagebrush its characteristic fragrance. Like any primary or secondary compound, in appropriate doses, terpenes are beneficial for health, but when the dose climbs too high, they become toxic. While elk, deer, cattle, and sheep use sagebrush as a nutritious forage in winter, terpenes limit their intake of sagebrush in accord with the amount of terpenes these herbivores can detoxify and eliminate from their bodies. When terpenes are slowly infused into the rumen or the bloodstream as sheep eat a meal, sheep stop eating before the amount of infused terpenes reaches a toxic level. They resume eating only after terpenes in the body decline.

Terpenes thus affect satiation (processes that bring a meal to an end) and satiety (processes that inhibit eating between meals). Lambs reduce meal size (reach satiation sooner) and increase intervals between meals (longer satiety) when their diets are high in terpenes. When animals can eat a variety of different forages, which vary in kinds of secondary compounds, what ensues are cyclic patterns of intake of different foods from meal to meal and day to day as bodies regulate intake of foods with different kinds of secondary compounds. When animals eat small amounts of a range of plants containing secondary compounds, they expose cells and microbes in their bodies to a variety of secondary compounds beneficial for health, too.

In the early years of those studies, I was amazed that administering primary or secondary compounds directly into an animal’s gut (or bloodstream) could markedly alter that animal’s liking for the flavor of a food. It was counterintuitive to my experience of eating and to all I’d been taught about how taste influences preference. To further complicate matters, ruminants—including cattle, sheep, goats, elk, and deer—are walking compost heaps. They have four-chambered stomachs, and the rumen is a huge fermentation vat that contains mixed plant material being digested by thousands of species of microbes. How could signals from primary and secondary compounds not be lost in such a heap of fermentation? Over and over again, though, goats, sheep, and cattle showed us that the signals weren’t lost in the rumen.

 

Fred Provenza is professor emeritus of Behavioral Ecology in the Department of Wildland Resources at Utah State University, where he directed an award-winning research group that pioneered an understanding of how learning influences foraging behavior and how behavior links soils and plants with herbivores and humans. Provenza is one of the founders of BEHAVE, an international network of scientists and land managers committed to integrating behavioral principles with local knowledge to enhance environmental, economic, and cultural values of rural and urban communities. His latest book Nourishment: What Animals Can Teach Us About Rediscovering Our Nutritional Wisdom will be published in November 2018.

 

 

By Jason Detzel

It is true that there are fewer processors today than there used to be. And on top of that, there are a lot more regulations that cost money to implement. The processors themselves are reporting to us that there is barely enough business to keep them afloat because there are very few folks processing in the springtime.

While you can’t count on more processors opening up in a given area, you can – and should – develop relationships with a few of them. The general consensus is that anything within about four hours can be considered local.

What follows are some general tips that I have acquired for when it’s time to process your animals.

1. Make your appointments at least six months in advance for large animals. Most ranchers and farmers will routinely make all of their appointments a year in advance for their entire season and if you call a couple of months out you will most certainly be put on the waiting list.

2. If you do find yourself in a bind, there is a map of slaughterhouses in New York available at: http://smallfarms.cornell.edu/resources/livestock/slaughterhouse-map/

With a few phone calls you can usually find someone to process your animal in some of the less populated areas of the state, although this will certainly require a longer trip.

The Small Farms Program maintains a map of available livestock processors in NY

3. Communicate with your processor! Every facility has their own cut sheet and a certain way that they do things. Before you fill out your cut sheet, sit down and think about what you or your customers are going to want as far as cuts go. Do you want to sell one-pound or two-pound packages of hamburger, do you want your steaks cut in one-inch or two-inch widths, and are you going to keep and package your organ meats?
You need to know this before you go in to fill out your cut sheet. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. These guys are the experts, and if they are not willing to give you a little of their time to get things right for the customer, then maybe the partnership is not a good fit.

4. Talk to other farmers in the area. Ask them what they liked and possibly didn’t like about certain processors. Most farmers are more than happy to share their opinion and tend to be very loyal to the processors that they feel do a good job.

5. Shop around. Most processors have websites that list their kill fee and price per pound for processing. Each facility does this differently and even though one place is less expensive it does not mean they are the best choice.

6. The USDA makes the rules for retail cuts and each animal is a little different. A simplified version of these regulations is that cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs must be inspected at a USDA slaughterhouse to be sold at retail. Poultry can be processed and sold on-farm or at farmers markets as long as you are doing the work and are processing less than 1,000 birds per year. Poultry can be sold to stores and restaurants if they are butchered under a 5-A license. The different types of 5-A licenses are complicated so review the booklet or talk to your local 5-A processor about your options for selling your finished poultry in retail establishments.

7. Custom slaughterhouses are not USDA certified. These facilities are most often used to process deer and wild game in season. They can and often do process livestock but these cuts cannot be sold as retail and will often have a “not for sale” stamp on the packaging. You can sell half, whole or quarter animals this way.

8. For a product such as bacon to be smoked it often has be shipped offsite to a different facility. The process of smoking is also governed by USDA rules and regulations and many slaughterhouses do not have the space to devote to this. This means it will take longer to get your cuts back if the pieces need to be sent out to another facility.

9. Talk to your butcher about less than ideal animals. There are times, especially with cattle, where the animal may look finished and ready from the outside but when they process the carcass, they find the meat to be less than ideal. Selling tough steaks is not easy, so instruct the processor that if the steaks are not up to muster he should grind them for burger or make stew meat. Granted you will not have the premium steaks to sell but you will not have to sell marginal steaks either.

10. Moving animals to processing is going to be the most traumatic thing they ever experience. From loading to riding in an enclosed box behind a moving vehicle, these are both unnatural and terrifying for the animals. There is no rationalizing this with the stock but you can make your load in easier by prepping in the days prior to putting them in trailer. Put the trailer in the field and put treats in it to entice them to walk in. If that is not possible then use treats and low-stress handling to catch, sort, and push through the handling facilities in preparation for the load out.

There are some great resources for all of the regulations dealing with processing in the state. Here is a link to the Resource Guide to Direct Marketing Livestock and Poultry in the state: http://smallfarms.cornell.edu/resource-guide-to-direct-marketing-livestock-and-poultry. The marketing guide is an invaluable resource for all things livestock and has an extensive section on slaughter and marketing regulations. This is the last stage in producing animal products. In some cases you have spent years tending to these animals so you absolutely must ensure that the product coming out the processor is the best it can be.

 

Jason Detzel is Livestock Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County.

Main Street Farms shares insights gained from their experience focusing on long-term business viability through a Profit Team project.

By Kat McCarthy and Dan Welch

At Main Street Farms, in Cortland NY, growth is the way of doing business. The farm has doubled in size annually. What started as a 1-acre market garden and 10,000 tilapia in an aquaponics system is now, after six years, 30 acres on three properties and 25,000 square feet of high tunnels and greenhouses, producing vegetables for over 300 CSA members, one farmers market, area restaurants, and wholesale customers.

Given their rapid growth, one would never expect that farmers Allan Gandelman and BobCat Bonagura didn’t begin their business with agricultural backgrounds. Allan, a high school social studies teacher, left the education field for the farm field, with a goal of growing vegetables for the local community and children in area schools. Shortly after starting the business, he recruited college roommate BobCat from an outdoor environmental education field to join the farm. Both have a love of learning and are passionate about feeding the community and educating about local food. In 2016, products from the farm made it into the school where Allan once taught, fulfilling his aspirations to feed students nutritious local vegetables. Demonstrating their value of community engagement, the farmers have also served on various local agricultural and environmental boards, and offered classroom presentations and tours, in addition to participating in local school events.

Since its launch seven years ago, the farm has occupied about eight different properties; 2017 marked the first year that the farm has not moved one or more of its sites between seasons. With a long-term lease for land, Allan and BobCat now are focusing on modifying existing facilities and have leased a 4,000 square foot warehouse for post-harvest packing and cold storage, and a commercial kitchen for the farm and another local business.

Staff at the farm harvest kale for the CSA.
Photographer: Zack Bolton

Shortly after the farm launched, Allan recognized a need to scale up production in order to develop a sustainable operation. This need was informed by the evaluation of profit and loss statements, enterprise analysis of individual crops to determine profitability per foot, and time studies of labor use. With a local average household income of $30,000, Allan believed the pathway for growth was to produce and sell more volume of diverse vegetables, not just more high-profit specialty crops.

As a result, Allan applied to the Small Farm Program’s Profit Team Project to explore opportunities scale up the business. He elaborates that over time the focus has been to increase production so supply outweighs demand, increase CSA memberships, and create access to a reliable processing facility. To date, the profit team project has helped with this goal by providing support to visit six other farms to learn about systems and best practices, offset attorney fees for the land lease, and work with an outside consultant to apply for GAP certification.

The benefits from this project were numerous. The farm’s new packing shed and GAPS certification would likely not have happened as quickly without the support of the project. Within the past three years, Main Street Farms has also scaled up equipment, and transitioned from one 47 horse power Kubota to approximately 8 tractors to save labor and increase efficiency. Additionally, the farm has invested in a large high efficiency cooler, land lease, and two H2A laborers as a result of work on the profit team project.

Allan also notes that the project has impacted farm management, profit and quality of life. Over the course of the project, Allan used a portion of grant to visit, shadow and interview other regional, more experienced farmers. He was able to see how they operate, to learn their successes and mistakes, and by reflection, to identify inefficiencies and possible solutions for Main Street Farms. During these visits, Allan also discussed how data and financials, such as gross sales, employee pay, cash flow and debt, caninform the development of short- and long-term goals. These insights helped informed Allan’s decisions around infrastructure investments. Additionally, by seeing how others created a work-life balance, Allan learned strategies to implement on his own farm to support long-term quality of life improvements. He was inspired by one farmer who had established a structure so the farm family could take vacations every August, while others demonstrated strategies for balancing on- and off-farm work.

Looking to the future, Main Street Farms intends to continue following the plan it has set-forth, keeping a focus on establishing existing enterprises before expanding into new endeavors. “At this point, we just need to keep following the path that we have in front of us,” Allan notes, indicating the importance in staying focused and letting decisions play out.  Allan’s next profit team project would be to focus on improving production and management practices to maximize profit. He would start by visiting larger growers. He notes that learning about business planning and technical expertise go hand in hand, as an organization scales up.

A Partial Budget to Understand Costs & Benefits

Main Street Farms now harvests lettuce from the field, packs it into crates, and stores it directly in the highly efficient cooler.
Photographer: Kat McCarthy

On a tour of another farm, Allan observed a useful strategy to address maintaining food quality and improving food safety, while improving handling efficiency. By using a high efficiency cooler, the host farm was able to cool lettuce and other greens from field with less handling. At the time, lettuce harvested at Main Street Farms was cooled by submerging in cold water, air dried, and then put in storage. This resulted in the produce having to be handled at least twice from the field to box, while potentially reducing produce quality. Additionally, cooling field grown produce to the right temperature in the right amount of time is key for food safety. Using the new method to keep lettuce cool; it could be directly transferred from the field to cold storage. By adopting this approach the farm was able to save 4-5 hours of labor per week on head lettuce alone. This strategy also improved product quality and has led to increased profitability in the farm’s greens enterprise.

To evaluate this new option, Main Street Farms had to analyze if the capital investment in the cooler would be offset by the reduced cost and increased revenue from the investment. For a relatively low capital investment like a walk-in cooler, one may choose to start with developing a partial budget (Table 1).

A partial budget looks at a potential change in a farm business to see if it makes sense financially. The additional costs of the potential change and any reduction in income are on one side of the budget. On the other side are any increase in income and reduced costs. These two columns are added together, and if the additional income and reduced costs are greater, it should result in additional profit for the farm. It is important to keep in mind additional uses for the investment, such as storing winter vegetables for a longer period of time. For longer term investments, one should allocate costs and income on an annual basis. For a more thorough analysis of capital investments, and for larger investments, it would be recommended to perform a net present value assessment. The example below shows how a partial budget could be used for buying a walk-in cooler.

Partial Budget for Walk-in Cooler
Increase in Net Income Decrease in Net Income
Item Amount Item Amount
Improved Produce Quality $750.00
Decrease in Cost Increase in Cost
Item Amount Item Amount
Labor $2,131.00 Walk-in Cooler (annual) $2,000.00
Electricity Use $250.00
Total Increase $2,881.00 Total Decrease $2,250.00
Change in Net Income $631.00
Assumptions
Labor Savings: 5.5 hours/wk, $15.50/hr cost, 35 wk season
Walk in Cooler: $30,000 cost, 15 year life

 

Strategies for Success

Allan offers this advice to farmers who are growing their business:

  • Constantly seek new information and learn skills to support positive evolution. By meeting with outside consultants and shadowing other farmers, Allan was able to incorporate successful strategies from others, while tailoring techniques to meet Main Street Farm’s unique needs. In meeting with a farm in Pennsylvania, Allan discovered that by investing in a high efficiency cooler he could avoid washing heads of lettuce, reducing staff time, making GAPS compliance easier, and ultimately saving 30% on the production cost of the head of lettuce by reduced handling.
  • Collect and use data to inform management decisions. For example, to understand the labor cost of a crop, Allan conducts studies where he times how long it takes an employee to handle (i.e. bunch, wash, etc.) a specific amount of a crop. Through these time studies, Allan understands labor costs for each product. As a result, the farm has a keen understanding of productivity metrics and costs. This data can be applied to conduct an enterprise analysis, which informs costs and payback period for investments in equipment.
  • Network with other business owners, even if they are not farmers. For the past three years, Allan has been meeting monthly with a peer advisory group of other business owners in the local community, where they share and discuss their own business financials and numbers. He stated that “they are very valuable meetings and we haven’t missed one month since we started.” For example, at one of these meetings, Allan was posed with this question: Insurance companies send their customers a reoccurring bill, rather than stopping service for two seasons – so why not offer a year-round CSA to encourage customer retention? As a result, Main Street Farms is now operating a subscription “pay as you go” CSA for customers that doesn’t end in the fall, but instead continues until the customer cancels.

 

Kat McCarthy worked with the Beginning Farmer Profit Teams as the Beginning Farmer Project Coordinator for the Cornell Small Farms Program from March 2017 through May 2018. Dan Welch is the Business Planning Director at NY FarmNet and has been involved with the profit team project since 2015.

Information for this summary was collected in June 2017. For more information about the Profit Team Project, please visit www.tinyurl.com/ProfitTeams. 

This project was a collaboration of the Cornell Small Farms Program, NY Farm Viability Institute, and NY FarmNet, and made possible with funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number 2015-70017-22882.

By Guy Ames, ATTRA 

Organic certification verifies that fruit is produced according to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic standards. See www.ams.usda.gov/nop for details of the standards. In general, the regulations make several requirements of certified organic fruit:

  • Produced without genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge 

    Organic Magness pears. Photo: Guy Ames, NCAT

  • Managed in a manner that conserves natural resources and biodiversity 
  • Raised per the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List) 
  • Overseen by a USDA-authorized certifying agent 

All National Organic Program regulations for crops apply to tree fruits. The only regulation specifically pertaining to orchards is 7 CFR §205.204(a)(4): 

“Nonorganically produced planting stock to be used to produce a perennial crop may be sold, labeled, or represented as organically produced only after the planting stock has been maintained under a system of organic management for a period of no less than 1 year…” 

Basic Principles
Numerous pests and diseases, coupled with the high cosmetic standards of the market, make commercial organic tree fruit production difficult, especially in the East. The relative permanence of an orchard provides ecological stability, including opportunities for soil conservation and soil building. On the other hand, that relative permanence can allow the build-up of some pests, diseases and weeds since crop rotation is eliminated as a pest-management tool for all but the cover crop in the aisles. 

Transitioning to Organic Disease Control in Orchards
Disease-resistant cultivars should be the foundation of an organic disease management program. However, many popular commercial cultivars have little or no genetic resistance to diseases. Furthermore, only a few cultivars have across-the-board resistance to all the major diseases in an area, and these cultivars are generally not well known to consumers. 

  • Sulfur and copper-type fungicides/bactericides are the mainstays of organic disease management; however, they are problematic, especially in the humid East where they must be on plant surfaces before a rain to pr vent infection, but can easily be washed off by rain.
  • Agricultural-grade antibiotics are no longer allowed in organic production for fire blight control in apples and pears. 
  • New-generation disease management tools, like microbial antagonists of certain pathogens, are becoming available, but are also problematic, especially in the East, where disease pressure is higher.
  • Cultural techniques for managing tree fruit diseases mostly involve opening up the trees with pruning and training to promote rapid drying of plant surfaces after rain. These techniques are generally not adequate by themselves to control diseases, but can augment other approaches.
  • Flail mowing of prunings or removal of prunings from the orchard removes an important source of disease inoculum. 

 

Transitioning to Organic Insect and Mite Control in Orchards 

  • Several key pests, such as codling moth, plum curculio (only east of the Rockies), cherry fruit fly, and stink bugs can render the better part of a fruit crop unsaleable if ignored. Consumers, in general, are not accepting of insect damage on, or especially in, a fruit. Because of the many pests that attack tree fruits and the low tolerance for damage, the grower needs to understand the life cycles of the pests and the points at which they are vulnerable to management.
  • “Particle film technology” using a finely pulverized kaolin clay product, Surround™, has revolutionized organic insect management in tree fruits in the past two decades, making organic control of stubborn pests like plum curculio possible. Surround™ controls most tree fruit pests if fruit and leaves are adequately covered. Three problems bear mentioning: 1) Surround™ does weather off with time and rain, so multiple applications can be necessary, 2) if it doesn’t weather off or get washed off in a brusher/washer, residues will remain on fruit, 3) Surround™ readily precipitates out of solution in the spray tank, so the tank must be constantly agitated while applying.
  • At least one botanical insecticide, neem, and several relatively new microbials—e.g., Spinosad™ and Beauvaria bassiana—can be effective against particular pests.
  • Pheromone disruption systems for specific pests, like codling moth and oriental fruit moth, are effective.
  • Conservation of habitat and food sources (e.g., certain wildflowers) encourages beneficial insects and other organisms and can augment insect and mite control in orchards.

 

Transitioning to Organic Weed Management in Orchards 

Sooty blotch and flyspeck are serious cosmetic disorders on apples in the East. Photo: Robyn Metzger, NCAT

  • Crop rotation is impossible in an orchard situation. Pernicious weeds, like bermudagrass in the Almond trees in bloom. South and quackgrass in the North, are hard to control organically, especially if you can’t rotate to a smother crop. However, a thick cover crop in the aisles can keep weeds like bermudagrass from getting started and moving under the tree canopy. Also, the aisles can be planted (and rotated) to various cover crops for advantages such as providing mulch material, enhancing pest control, and contributing to tree nutrition.
  • Mulch can be part of a good weed management strategy but can also encourage pests like mice and voles. Wood chip mulches don’t harbor rodents and have performed well in research trials.
  • Precision, tractor-mounted mechanical weeders that prevent trunk damage are effective but not in mulched trees.
  • Flame weeding and organic herbicides can be effective where weeds are short and applications are repeated, but the multiple applications necessary can get costly. No systemic herbicides are available for organic production, making control of some weeds very difficult. 

 

Organic Fertility in Orchards 

  • Liming should occur prior to planting and in accordance with soil tests.
  • Foliar analysis coupled with soil tests will give the best indication of tree nutrient status.
  • Pre-plant cover crops are advised for both fertility and weed control.
  • Nutrient contribution of cover crops in the aisles between rows appears to be small and should not be relied upon alone for fertility. (However, cover crops have other beneficial impacts on soil and the orchard ecosystem, such as minimizing erosion, improving water infiltration, and providing habitat for beneficial insects.) 
  • In general, fruit trees are not heavy feeders, and their needs are often met by decomposing mulches, com- post applications, and/or organic foliar feeding. In fact, too much nitrogen can induce problems like fire blight and soft fruit.
  • With education and experience, most fruit growers will learn to recognize the symptoms of nutrient problems: inadequate growth of shoots, chlorotic color of leaves, fruit disorders (e.g., apple measles), etc. 

 

Market Considerations for Organic Fruit
Demand for organic fruit is usually high, and the premium for organically certified fruit is usually correspondingly high. In the West, brokers, some specializing in organic fruit, handle most of the fruit; much of it is headed to the East where organic production of tree fruits is comparatively small. In the East, the small amount of organic fruit produced is most often retailed directly by the farmer, but there is beginning to be some distribution through food hubs. 

In the East, growers will often have to educate clientele about why their fruit looks the way it does. Direct contact with the end consumer is usually necessary for this education. Growers, especially in the East, should have a marketing plan that includes value-added products like cider, sauce, jams, and jellies to provide a use for damaged and cosmetically inferior fruit. 

 

Further Resources 

ATTRA’s series on organic fruit production, including publications on organic production of cherries, apples, peaches, plums, and pears. Access at www.attra.ncat.org or call 1-800-346-9140. 

Peck, Gregory, Ian Merwin, et al. 2009. A Growers Guide to Organic Apples. NYS IPM Publication No. 223. Cornell University. Ithaca, NY. http://nysipm.cornell.edu/organic_guide/apples.pdf 

WSU Tree Fruit Research & Extension Center. Organic & Integrated Tree Fruit Production.
www.tfrec.wsu.edu/pages/organic/Organic_Production 

 

University of California Small Farm Program. http://sfp.ucdavis.edu/  

USDA Organic Regulations 7 CFR 205: www.ams.usda.gov/nop 

USDA National Organic Program Handbook: www.ams.usda.gov/NOPProgramHandbook 

 

NOP 5029 – Guidance: Seeds, Annual Seedlings and Planting Stock in Organic Crop Production. 

USDA National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances: www.ams.usda.gov/NOPNationalList 

 

This article was developed with support from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service, National Organic Program 

 

Produced by the National Center for Appropriate Technology 

www.ncat.org • 1-800-275-6228 (1-800-ASK-NCAT) 

(Parent organization to the ATTRA Project, www.attra.ncat.org) 

a teen-focused entrepreneurial program in Southern NJ offers job training and education

By Suzanne Cope

Last fall, a half-dozen teenagers from the Southern New Jersey city of Camden brought hot peppers they’d grown in an urban garden to a rented industrial kitchen. Donning latex gloves, they de-seeded and chopped the chilies before adding them to vinegar and salt. A few days later, they processed and bottled the resulting product into their own brand of hot sauce, Kapow!

Youth working to pack hot sauce. Photo courtesy of CFET.

The group is part of a teen-focused entrepreneurial program called Eco Interns, offered by the Camden-area Center for Environmental Transformation (CFET). The mission of this nonprofit is to create a sustainable, healthy source of fresh fruit and vegetables—through community gardens and a farmers’ market—for an underserved urban community, while offering job training and education with a focus on meeting environmental challenges.

The interns do everything from picking and preparing the peppers to processing and selling their hyper-local, all-natural hot sauce. And they’re paid a competitive hourly wage to do so. In the early stages of the annual summer program, about a dozen interns work in one of the organization’s urban gardens, cook nutritious food, and run a stand at a weekly summer farmers’ market. The garden has both raised and in-ground beds, a greenhouse, a beehive, and a fruit orchard, all tended primarily by the teenagers.

In a neighborhood where jobs—particularly for young people—are hard to come by, participants say they appreciate the program and the training it provides. “I was very grateful to have this experience,” one teenager reflected in a writing activity at the end of the summer. “I learned a lot of things that I plan on carrying with me for the rest of my life.”

The inaugural cohort of teenagers conceived of Kapow! three seasons ago from the ground—or garden—up, working with a designer and small-business consultant to get the product into the hands of customers. During the first year of this entrepreneurial enrichment program, which takes place after the summer Eco-Intern program has ended, they made and sold a little more than 100 bottles; in 2017, that number rose to 450.

The final product. Photo courtesy of CFET.

Bottles of Kapow! are mostly sold at CFET events, and through people and organizations that reach out to the group directly. Recently a representative of Subaru came across Kapow! at a CFET event and ordered a few dozen bottles to use as corporate giveaways. All of the proceeds are invested back into the program, where they help pay for additions like the recent beehives that CFET has acquired for its gardens.

Participants learn much more than how to produce a condiment; they gain experience with every aspect of developing and building a small business. The initiative provides not just diverse job training but also nutritional education and a source of fresh, locally grown produce in a region labeled a food desert for its lack of access to fresh food. CFET grew out of an effort by parishioners at the nearby Sacred Heart Church, who were so moved by volunteer work they had performed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina that they sought to create similar change in their own backyard.

The entrepreneurship program that developed Kapow! began with the help of a grant from New Jersey’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives as a way to extend CFET’s efforts. As the program grows in size and popularity, community groups say local nutrition and food security is improving and area youth are better prepared for higher-paying jobs and further schooling—opportunities that long felt out of reach in this community.

In addition to making Kapow!, CFET manages urban garden spaces around Camden that include community gardens, fruits orchard, and a plant nursery, and offers gardening programs to younger children (called Garden SEEDS).

“Our first mission is respect for the environment,” says Teresa Niedda, CFET’s program director, of the group’s goals. “But we are also concerned with food issues: the availability of fresh, local food for the youth workers and the local community. Also, of course, we’re committed to youth development—giving Camden youth a safe place they can go to learn about the environment, health, and job training, among other things.”

Meeting a Need in Camden

The decade-old CFET is located in the city’s Waterfront South neighborhood, a mix of residential and industrial areas where shipbuilding was once the biggest industry. Throughout Camden, more than a third of the almost 75,000 residents live in poverty, compared to the United States’ 12.7 percent average poverty rate.

And whereas 14 percent of Americans nationally receive federal nutrition assistance programs, 65 percent of Camden County residents are eligible, and studies have shown that there are many food-insecure families in the city who don’t qualify for or receive SNAP. In response to the widespread food insecurity and the limited job opportunities available for young people, CFET chose to focuse on teenagers.

Participants have the ability to work their way up from an eco intern to a senior farmer, at which point they can take part in community food justice discussions, lead workshops, speak at Earth Day events, and collaborate with high schools and colleges that now come to Camden for service learning and to learn about food justice issues.

In addition to benefitting participants, the program serves the local community. The farm offers growing space and a green oasis for the urban neighborhood. The weekly farm stand the teenagers run provides one of the few sources of fresh produce in the area and the kids are allowed to bring home any excess from the week.

Rutgers researcher Kate Cairns studied the effect of the program on its participants and found that the added income and fresh food home have both made noticeable differences in their lives. It has also taught them skills that will affect their ability to provide for themselves throughout their lives. “Now I don’t have to worry about [accessing fresh food] because I can do it myself if it ever got serious,” one participant in the study was quoted as saying.

Youth working at the farmers market. Photo courtesy of CFET.

Cairns’s research also highlights the lack of opportunity for teenagers in Camden. In her article, she shared participants’ stories of being encouraged to sell drugs instead of working at CFET.

She says one youth told her that a student had been approached by a man who asked, “Why you doin’ this for $9 an hour?” While waving a stack of cash, he continued, “Do you know how fast I can make this much money?” Cairns notes how appreciative the participants are to be part of a program that provides options beyond those neighborhood pressures.

While CFET doesn’t yet have a system for tracking youth who have finished the program, Niedda says it’s clear that interest is growing. They no longer have to advertise for summer workers, and as many as 35 people applied this summer through word-of-mouth alone. Interest in the locally grown produce has increased as well. “When I first started, the youth just weren’t into the healthy food,” she says with a laugh. “Last year’s group fought over taking the extra food home. It was amazing.”

In 2013, Niedda notes, only three Camden high school graduates who took the SATs were considered college-ready. But things are changing. “[Last year’s] senior farmer and assistant farmer are both in college,” she says, while another former participant is majoring in botany thanks to his work at CFET.

The success of Kapow! has led students to expand their offerings. Last fall, they created Midas Touch Honey, made from last summer’s newly productive hives. Working with a pro-bono designer, they came up with a branding concept: a queen who turns everything she touches into golden honey. This is a fitting metaphor for their own experiences: As a result of the program, they see their futures looking brighter. As one teenage participant says, “I know I could sustain myself because I learned so much from here.”

Reprinted from CIVIL EATS, and excellent online resource for agriculture and food system articles. Originally posted on: July 24, 2018 Visit http://civileats.com/

By Rebecca Harris

In 1914, Sylvestor Howe packed up his horses, left behind his family and small brick house in Tunbridge, Vermont, to travel 90 miles to the big city of Brattleboro. He would return weeks later with the town’s first registered Holstein cows to start Holstein Stock Farm. Nine of the Howechildren would grow up on this farm, and six would die on the same land.

Organic dairy cows at Chapman Family Farms in Tunbridge, Vermon

Tucked in-between rolling green hills carved by the winding first branch of the White River, the pastures are kept small in this valley. It isn’t hard to imagine the echoed clacking of hoofs over the wooden covered bridge that still acts as the sole access to this farm’s narrow green pasture. Over the years the farm was passed down from one generation to the next. Two years ago Tunbridge-born, military veteran, beginner farmer, Corey Chapman and his wife Ann bought this 200-acre organic dairy farm from Merle Howe, the last living son of the original Howe family, to start Chapman Family Farms.

When Corey Chapman grew up here, there were 25 dairy farms in town. Today only five organic dairy farms are left. Increasingly, Vermont’s idyllic agricultural lifestyle is threatened. NRCS’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, Agricultural Land Easements (ACEP-ALE) helps protect threatened agricultural landscapes and their rich history for future generations.

On the Chapman farm, water quality is a focus and the family received assistance through the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to install practices to protect and improve soil and water health. Sixty acres of the 204-acre farm are conserved through a conservation easement with the Vermont Land Trust.

In partnership with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Vermont Land Trust, the Chapman’s conserved 60+ riverside acres of the farm in perpetuity with an Agricultural Land Easement. In 2018, NRCS celebrates 25 years of partnering with passionate private landowners, such as the Chapman Family, to protect and prevent the development of productive agricultural land.

Unlike Corey, Ann spent the majority of her life in cities, spending her teenage years in Boston and traveling around the world as a student and young professional. “I’ve lived in cities most of my life, in places where you have to walk a couple of blocks to go see the grass they planted.” She understands the importance of maintaining working lands and raising children on a farm and explains, “I’ve seen a lot of places in the world where you had to go on vacation to see Mother Nature, where kids learn about farm animals from storybooks.”

She says protecting this land means connecting the next generation to “our rivers and our soil.” She says, “The best way to protect a river is to let kids swim in it. If they grow up swimming in a river, they are going to love that river. They are going to get angry when banks are eroding, they are going to get mad when there is erosion, they will be concerned when there is trash lodged in the banks and when there are no fish. For the rest of their life, they are going to be protective of that resource.”
When the Chapman’s enrolled their riverside farmland in a state supported River Corridor Easement (an easement that allows for the passive restoration of the channel and for reforestation) they did so with one exception. Part of the conservation plan included land set aside for Ann’s Beach, where their family and others could still access, and play, in the river.

The Chapman family, including their five children (with one on the way!), are passionate about conservation and stewardship. Ann says, “If we are going to farm, we are going to do it right from the beginning.”

When asked how they envision the future, Corey and Ann tell a story from the days following Corey’s return from his third and last stint in Afghanistan. They sat down and asked each other what kind of life they wished to lead. Corey spoke with intention, “I don’t care if we are dirt poor and have nothing–this is our dream. We want to wake up every morning and see our children.”

Corey then turned and pointed to a framed photo hanging on the wall of a man in uniform, his late best friend Steve, and says, “When it’s 31 below zero and I cannot go any longer, I remember that he was 25 when he died and now I’m 38. I am able to do whatever it takes to protect this land for my children. However, if they watch me walk through the door every day and the guy from the state is here because the river is polluted, they’re not going to want to continue farming.” Passing on this land should be a blessing, not a burden. That means investing in sustainable infrastructure such as a new manure pit or a larger bunker silo. It means thinking about how your farming practices will impact the future of the land. “We still complain … its human nature to complain, but at the end of the day we’re extremely lucky. I’m lucky to be alive.”

With the help of NRCS’s ACEP-ALE, one hundred years from now, the narrow covered bridge may still act as the only access to the farm’s narrow pasture, dotted with Holstein cows. Red maples lean over verdant riverbanks, their roots holding back the soil and filtering runoff. Ann’s Beach is filled with new children playing in the river, future farmers and conservationists learning to love the land.

 

Rebecca Harris is working for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Colchester, Vermont through EcoAmeriCorps, as a Conservation Easement Stewardship Assistant. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies and Political Science from Tulane University in 2016.

For more information about NRCS’ Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), which provides financial and technical assistance to help conserve agricultural lands and wetlands and their related benefits, visit https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/easements/acep/.

 

By Rich Taber, CCE Chenango

As the haying season winds down across the northeast, I am left to ponder the eternal question; should I keep on trying to make hay for my livestock every year, or buy it? Well, “the devil is in the details”, as the old saying goes. First off, I am going to state unequivocally that there is no correct “yes or no” answer, and your conclusions need to be made for your own specific situation. I will however, present to you some of the challenging requirements needed to successfully make hay, with its concomitantly huge amounts of time, money, cropping needs, and machinery procurement and maintenance.

I am also going to make some assumptions about the readers who would most benefit from this discussion. 1. The very title of this publication “Small Farm Quarterly” implies a smaller agricultural business that does not generate huge cash flows, such as the typical commercial dairy farm we see all over the Northeast. 2. You may be a new or beginning farmer and have decided to get livestock on your farm, and you need to figure out how to provide good quality feed for them. 3. You do not have huge amounts of money in reserve to finance the purchase and maintenance of all kinds of haying equipment. 3. You do have a certain amount of land on your property that does grow hay crops on it, and someone will need to do the haying. 4. You may work off the farm for a significant amount of hours, and may only have limited amounts of time to actually make hay in a timely manner. 5. Perhaps you do have some family help that could be used for the haying process. 6. You have not decided yet whether to make small square bales, or make large round or square bales, or even wrapped baleage. 7. You will rotationally graze your animals for between 5 and 6 months of the year, and the forages that you need to acquire will be for the winter, or non-grazing months, which in many parts of the northeast seems to last eternally, for upwards of seven months out of the year.

So how much hay will you need? An easy thumb rule to follow is that for every 100 pounds of live animal body weight you will need about 3 pounds of dry hay per day. So, a 1200 lb. beef cow will need 36 pounds of dry hay a day; you can extrapolate this figure for all ruminant animals for planning purposes. Then take your grand total, and divide by 2,000 to get the number of tons that you may need. For planning purposes, let’s say that you have a 20 cow beef herd. Each cow weighs about 1200 pounds. Here’s the math: (12 x 3) x (20) x (a 200 day feeding season) /2000 lbs. per ton = 72 tons of hay needed for the winter season.

Typical small square bales weigh about 35-40 pounds each. A typical 4 ft. x 4 ft. dry round bale weighs just less than 700 pounds. A wrapped wet bale of baleage, which contains the same amount of nutrients as the dry round bale, but has a lot more water in it, can weigh 1200 pounds. (Always figure your livestock nutritional needs on a dry basis for calculation purposes).

Diverging from the animal requirements, we will return to the issues of making hay. What equipment do you need to make hay? You will need the following: I will quote prices for good, used machinery, (not consignment auction junk either) as you probably won’t want to purchase new equipment; it can be absurdly expensive! If you can afford to buy new or newer equipment, more power to you! Just be careful about accumulating too much debt.

Various equipment needed to complete the process.

1. At least one good tractor. You will probably need this tractor for a myriad of other purposes on the farm, so the debate over having a tractor is moot, unless you are a draft animal powered farm. Generally, most people that make hay have two or three to handle all of the different operations in haying.

2. An older style mower-conditioner, (commonly called a haybine), or a more recent discbine, to mow the hay with. Haybines take considerably less horsepower to run; you can get by with about 50 horsepower. You need about 80 horsepower to run the typical 10 foot wide discbine. Expect to pay $1500-$15,000 for good used ones.

3. You will need a tedder to ted hay, soon after its mown, to spread it out, and to help it dry. Making dry hay in the northeast can be all but impossible in June, and in a year like this past one, really impossible, where it was dryer earlier on, and then it became quite wet and rainy through August. A good used two row hay tedder can typically cost $1500-2000.

4. A rake to rake your hay: non-negotiable, you have to have one of these. A decent used one can be found for around $1500.

5. A baler to bale the hay. Will you go with small square bales, or large round bales, or even large square bales? Either way, good used balers of any type can be $10,000 more or less. I would recommend that you go with a round baler, as your labor requirements are much less. It never ceased to amaze me, back when I made small square bales as to how few friends I had during haying season, paid or not, that were available to help unload hay wagons. However, on the farm I always seemed to have enormous numbers of friends during deer season. The moral: labor can be an onerous issue in making hay.

6. If you are going to make small square bales, you have to have several decent hay wagons to bale into; these can easily cost $2000 each for good used ones. If you are making round bales, you need a decent wagon to load and haul them on, which can run about $4,000 (and not a rickety flatbed wagon made from an old Model A Ford running gear with bald tires). They’re loads of fun to be barreling down the highway with several tons of hay on it and they blow a tire or the frame falls apart! (So I’ve been told).

7. If you are making large round bales, you will need a tractor with a loader and a spear to handle the bales, and maybe a three-point-hitch one as well. Hopefully said tractor is a 4-wheel drive model, as 2-wheel drive tractors notoriously get stuck in muddy, snowy, mucky conditions, and usually only on Sundays or holidays when you have other plans. Or, you could use a “bale hugger” on your front-end loader if you need to handle wet bales of baleage, so that the plastic does not get ripped. They’re usually around $2000.

8. I almost forgot about the baleage wrapper, to wrap those wet bales in plastic. Anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000.

So, there you have it: and if you do all of the math, you may want to be sitting down from sticker shock if you add up all of the prices needed to procure haying machinery. What are we going to do? Shall we buy all of our hay? Decent quality hay can be purchased for anywhere from $25 a round bale, to upwards of $60 a bale for good quality baleage. Well, buying hay is a good option, but then what do we do with all of our hay land that we have on our properties, and we can’t afford to buy all this machinery?

Oh, the plot thickens, because not only do we need all of this machinery, we need to know how to maintain and repair it? Oh, you don’t like to get greasy and turn wrenches? You can hire a mechanic to come in and repair your machinery, buy they don’t come for free either, typically charging between $50 and $80 an hour for repairs. Your machinery will break down, sooner, or later. Then, you might become like what many of us have become, a collector of multiple pieces of older machinery; two rakes, two balers, etc. When strangers drive by your place and stop and ask if you are a used machinery dealer, you will know that you have arrived at that wonderful, if dubious, point.

Loading hay on the wagon.

Buying hay is a good option. There’s something to be said for having a truck show up in your driveway and you “write a check”, unload the hay, and then you’re done. You won’t be tying up endless hours all during the summer trying to get your haying done. You may even get to go somewhere on a Sunday afternoon!

Oh, the plot thickens again. How much time does it take to make hay? Mow on Monday, and then ted on Tuesday, and maybe rake on Tuesday or Wednesday, and then bale on Wednesday. That is, if it doesn’t rain. If you’re making baleage, you can generally mow on day one and bale the next day. If it rains, and the hay gets wet, you need to go back and ted it out again, and then you are that much further behind and with a lower quality product.

Another nice thing about buying your hay is that that is that much less land that you need to pay a mortgage, insurance, and taxes on, and pay for lime, seed, fertilizer, and the occasional reseeding with all of its incessant tillage needs.

However, the five thousand pound elephant is still in the room; we have land that we want to make hay on, but we don’t want to lose the farm over buying a whole raft of machinery. We work off the farm, and don’t have enough time to make good hay in a timely manner. Perhaps we can hire someone to do our hay for us. OK, that works to a point. Do you think your neighbor dairy farmer wants to stop putting up their own hay that they need, and come over and dither with your little field? Oh, they might have time for you in August rather than in June. Guess how good that hay will be?

Perhaps you can work with some amenable neighbors and you mow your own hay, and ted it and rake it, and hire them to come in and bale it for you. Any number of potential combinations exists. I have included a useful chart that shows what you might expect to pay to hire someone to do the work for you, “2018 Custom Rates and Fees”, prepared by CCE of Franklin County New York.

So, how do I handle my haying needs? We have at any given time fifty or so head of beef cattle and one hundred more head of sheep on our farm. When I say “we” I mean my wife and myself, and that’s it for help. She has two other businesses to run, so I do 99% of all of the haying throughout the year. I do have a fleet of older farm equipment that I make dry hay with throughout the summer months. We have about 50 open acres on our home farm that we do rotational grazing on, and have been doing all that we can to improve our grazing situation and to extend it as far as we can into the late fall. I fortunately have available another 60 acres from several landowners near our home farm that we rent, inexpensively, for some grazing, but mostly make hay on about 50 acres of it.

I grew up with haying, and have been doing it in one form or another for several decades. It is in my blood, and there is no nicer feeling than to be out in a beautiful green field, slowly tedding or raking hay on a sunny day, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. However, haying “hangs over my head” each and every summer to get it all done. I only make dry hay, and buy left over baleage from dairy farmers for a good price, as I do not own a baleage wrapper. What everyone who is thinking about getting into the hay making business is that you must decide for yourself, will you have enough of a cash flow from the business to justify all of this expense and labor? Would you like to go somewhere on a Sunday afternoon? Think about it, and do what is right for you and your situation. And beware of those who mock those who do make hay, and say everyone should buy all of their hay. If everyone thought this way, then who would make hay?

Rich Taber (M.S./M.S.F.) is an Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chenango County New York, and also owns a 165 acre farm in Madison County in the Hamilton/Morrisville area where he and his wife Wendy raise beef cattle, sheep, poultry, and enjoy their 105 acre woodlot. He can be reached at 607-334-5841, ext. 21, or  rbt44@cornell.edu.

 

By Hope Rainbow

In Defending Beef, author Nicolette Hahn Niman takes on no easy task: as the title suggests, this vegetarian cattle rancher seeks to exonerate beef from the many ills for which it’s blamed, both from ecological and nutritional perspectives. She anticipates every argument, discussing everything from the role cattle play in water contamination, soil health, and carbon sequestration, to the 20th-Century uptick in chronic diseases often blamed on excessive meat consumption. Far from the contemporary knee-jerk tendency to draw black-and-white conclusions in the face of complex problems, Niman distinguishes between resource-intensive, environmentally destructive factory farming and other grass-based ranching techniques that, as she shows, have great potential for environmental benefit.

The author presents her case in two sections, Cattle and Beef. In the first, she discredits popular ideas about the environmental impact of cattle ranching, including a well-known and oft-cited UN report blaming meat production for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions. She advocates unequivocally for grass-based cattle ranching, presenting it as a category quite distinct from feedlot farming. Her perspective is grounded in grassland ecology and the agri-political issues surrounding land usage. It can be summed up in a few wordy sentences: grasslands are important, biodiverse, underappreciated carbon sinks and soil-conserving ecosystems that evolved in symbiosis with ruminant herbivores. Without grazing herbivores, grasslands suffer a loss of biodiversity and slowly turn into forests. Or, put more simply: We need grass. Grass needs cows.

Returning cropland to the prairie that preceded it and grazing cattle or other ruminant herbivores allows for the environmental benefits of a grassland ecosystem (biodiversity, carbon sequestration, erosion prevention, water filtration – the list is impressive) while also allowing nutrition to be harvested from grass in the form of beef. Removing beef from our diets would result in more grasslands being converted into cropland at the cost of thousands of tons of topsoil yearly and irretrievable plant and animal habitats.

In her second section, Niman proposes that the chronic diseases popularly linked with excessive meat consumption are more likely a result of increased sugar consumption, citing the research of various nutrition experts as well as statistical trends in the American diet over the past century.

The premise of Defending Beef is certainly ambitious, and the resulting text is informative and, overall, well-researched. In covering such a broad range of arguments, however, Niman’s manifesto loses some intensity. It comes across rather like an introductory survey course, spending too few words on each topic. This book could have been much longer, or divided into several separate books, each addressing a different aspect of the problem. Still, Niman’s writing is simple and straightforward, and as a survey course it succeeds in introducing the concepts necessary to talk about cattle as part of a responsible food system.

Most compellingly, Niman implores us to consider the impact of our food systems in a manner more nuanced than we usually allow, refusing to paint with the broad strokes of “good” and “bad”. Instead, she presents both advocacy and critique of her beef industry and picks apart common ideas about agriculture and nutrition that don’t hold up to scrutiny. This book is an excellent read for anyone, vegan or omnivore, who is concerned about the footprint of their dietary and agricultural decisions.

New York beef farmers, have you considered becoming Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certified?

This certification is free through the NYS Beef Checkoff Program and is valid for three years. So far, the program has over 1,000 certified producers, educators, and students throughout the state. The training for this free certification provides access to the most recent research and training for beef cattle production. There are two levels of certification that can be achieved. The first level meets the basic BQA requirements of classroom and chute-side training, while the second level builds on the basics by establishing a veterinarian/client/patient relationship. With increasing concerns by consumers, the BQA certification can help to instill public trust.

If you are interested in the certification, this month is Beef Quality Assurance Month and it is easier to become certified through multiple trainings held around the state:

 

October 6th- 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Training Location: Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County,
                                    3542 Turner Road, Jamestown, NY
Chute-side Location: Moon Meadow Farm, Ted Card Family,
                                    3195 North Main Street, Jamestown, NY

For more information/register: call Lisa Kempisty 716-664-9502 Ext. 203, ljk4@cornell.edu.

 

October 9th- 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Training Location: Rockspring Farm
                                  490 Mill Rd., Cooperstown, NY 13326

For more information/register: call Bill Gibson, 518-588-6032, wrg56@cornell.edu.

 

October 12th- 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Training Location: Empire Livestock
                                   7418 NY-415, Bath, NY

For more information/register (RSVP due October 5th): call Lynn Bliven 716-244-0290

 

October 18th- 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Training Location: Short Tract Fire Hall
                                   10355 Co Rd 15 Fillmore, NY

For more information/register (RSVP due October 12th): call Lynn Bliven 716-244-0290

 

Grow Your Business by Growing New Products

If you’re not already registered, be sure to check out the next round of online courses. These courses are filling up fast and will close October 28, 2018 at 11:59 p.m EST. 


Veggie Farming Part 1 – From Planning to Planting

This course helps new and aspiring vegetable producers answer basic questions about site selection, crop rotation, seeding and transplanting, as well as the financial aspects of vegetable crop production. A number of topics will be covered in this online course, including variety selection, pre-plant preparation, and cultivation.

 


Berry Production

If you’re exploring the idea of adding berries and bramble fruits to your farm, this course will help you consider all the aspects of this decision, from varieties and site selection through profit and marketing. This course will be especially useful if you are interested in growing berries for income.

 


Poultry Production

Many new farmers get started with poultry because it’s a relatively low-investment enterprise with a fairly quick revenue turnaround. The margins can be slim though, and farmers need to develop the necessary skillset to produce a product that is both safe and profitable. This course will help you get started in building a successful poultry enterprise.

 


Getting Started with Pastured Pigs **NEW COURSE**

Pigs can be a profitable standalone enterprise or integrate into an existing farm structure. They provide a variety of products and are also ideal for turning agricultural wastes into a valuable product. Pigs make use of marginal lands that would otherwise go unused, and they can improve that land.

 

 


Introduction to Maple Syrup Production

Maple syrup production is rapidly growing around the Northeast and offers a sound financial opportunity to utilize woodlots. This course explores the range possibilities of maple sugaring on your land – be it for supplemental income or for your livelihood. Also discussed are “alternative” trees for production, including Birch and Black Walnut.

 

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